After writing about Edward Said and how Americans view information from Iran, I wanted to conclude with what I often end up thinking about oppression and the challenges to overcoming it. Those with privilege ultimately build the box in which they operate that privilege, separating them from the oppressed. Even in cases when the privileged sincerely desires to struggle for liberation for the underprivileged, there is reason for those lacking in power to distrust those with power. The distrust and inability to destroy the internalized stereotypes people form builds a difficult trap for everyone.
With the example of videos from Iran, we witness the trap that first-world bloggers face when they feel excitement and even envy about protests in Iran as they try to learn and be in solidarity. Others criticized writers who hinted enthusiasm because of their problematic privilege. Since to fight oppression means one is oppressed, celebrating conditions that require protest forgets that third world situations are not ideal. (Not to suggest that first-world situations are ideal, either.) If we take for granted that the bloggers wanted to contribute somehow to Iranian democracy, it is tragic that their attempt further highlights their privilege. It is a reflection of how difficult it is to develop solidarity.
Here’s a different, small example that could be more relatable. When I make eye contact with people on the street, I always find myself wondering what the person thinks I think of him or her. If I saw a person of color, his double consciousness* may lead him to analyze the impression he gave off. He might decide he is an invisible man. At the end of the day, I, the person of privilege, cannot recognize who is this person, really. (Ok, this is not a perfect scenario. The power dynamics of an Asian American female isn’t exactly one of white male privilege but, considering the history of tensions between Asians and Latinos and blacks, some assume that we are of privilege. I think Asian Americans need to be cognizant of this.) Also, if I was a person of privilege, I would be less likely think twice of this person on the street. Even if I wanted to acknowledge him, I am trapped in the lack of consciousness of my assumed position and he is influenced by his consciousness. I may have looked scared when I wanted to come off as respectful, or any other number of mis-construed and mis-read facial expressions. Furthermore, the effort made by the person of privilege marks their relationship as unequal to begin with. Both the oppressor and the oppressed are restricted in their acknowledgment of each other as people (read– both as oppressed).
I hate to end on this depressing note so I’ll leave with something from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, probably the best text on the humanistic dynamics of oppression that I’ve read. Among other points, Freire argues that the oppressor can only end his dehumanizing role through true solidarity with the oppressed. Straight to the heart.
Solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is solidary; it is a radical posture. If what characterizes the oppressed is their subordination to the consciousness of the master…, true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these ‘beings for another.’ …True solidarity is found only in the plentitude of this act of love, in its existentiality, in its praxis.